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[String of Stardust]


༻Chapter 9༺


     After such a long day, one would believe falling asleep would be a rather simple endeavor; yet, unfortunately, it does not appear that is so. I cannot help but repeat the day’s events within my mind…

     I feel so dreadful…and terribly, terribly foolish. Back in that place I called home I could always feel it, the palpable disdain for me. Whereas Marc preferred to merely berate me openly, I came to understand well insults framed as compliments, especially from Elise…

     “Do not be discouraged, one day you shall find a man who is as simpleminded as you!”

     “Oh, I am certain a peasant would find this positively ambrosial!”

     On and on…

     So then, if I am so familiar with this…why could I not parse it when directed at Hikaru?

     I have always assumed religious people are a tad stern and moralistic, based upon what I have seen of nuns and such, so I suppose her conversation perfectly aligned with that preconception. And yet, in hindsight, it does appear quite obvious she was referring to him…

     So often I wished someone would have defended me against such insults, and yet I did not afford the same courtesy to him… And another thought harasses me as well.

     “Seems your husband here…”

     Husband! To think, others already believe we are wed! Wait, already…?

     No, such a thought is truly absurd. I suppose I can understand the logic: a grown woman and man traveling together that do not quite appear to be related at all. Perhaps I would assume the same.

     But, there is certainly no way such a thing would ever happen, we simply are just too different. And besides…I wonder if perhaps, I would be the unworthy one regardless.

     I take a deep breath, attempting to clear my mind well enough to fall into sleep. It takes a moment, yet I soon enough fall into a faint, uneasy slumber. However, nearly as swiftly as I fell asleep, the sound of rustling once again awakens me.

     I open my eyes, scarcely conscious; yet even shrouded in darkness, I still see Hikaru awake, walking away from myself. Once or twice he glances behind him, and each time I quickly close my eyes. Spying upon him in such a manner is wrong, I know…and yet, curiosity grips me. What is he doing?

     After he goes on some distance, he stops and…bows to his knees? It reminds me of the first day we spent together, when I discovered him conversing with a faerie. Yet, while he always appears rather deferential to them, he has never fully bowed in a manner such as this…

      Now I am even more overcome with desire to get closer, discover what precisely is happening…yet even so, I already pry into his life far too excessively. Even if curiosity haunts me like a specter, I do not wish to betray his trust. And so, I merely turn my gaze away from him, instead looking upon the starry Sky.

     “Suzette? Are you awake?”

     He appears over me, and even in the shadows I can see the worry upon his face…

     “…Yes, I am,” I reply softly, slowly sitting up.

     “You saw everything, didn’t you?”

     “I…” I pause for a moment, unsure if I should tell the truth, or pretend I had not seen him. Yet if it is his trust I wish to preserve—

     “I saw you walk into the meadow, but I did not follow or hear you. Your movement had just awoken me…”

     “It’s all right,” he sighs heavily, crossing his arms, “I know you’re just saying that for my sake. You can tell the truth.”

     “That truly is the truth!” I quietly exclaim, a tad irritated that even my attempt at honesty is interpreted as a lie.

     “You genuinely didn’t? You didn’t hear what I said?” he asks, now looking more surprised, yet oddly relieved.

     “I wished to, admittedly…but no, I did not follow you or anything of that nature. Surely I peer into your life too frequently as it is…sâ pšyku, Hikaru.”

     Gently, he sits in the grass beside me.

     “You don’t have to apologize, Suzette…actually, mâzjêr. Thank you.”

     “What for?”

     “I’m not often allotted that much respect,” he says.

     I cannot help but wonder how he can say something so sad with a grin…

     “It is simply basic courtesy,” I reply.

     “With who I am, and what I do, even that’s a rare gift. Most just view me as wicked or insane.”

     “Admittedly, for a time I had thought you were the latter, yet…”

     “Do you now?”

     “It still seems rather odd to me, yet clearly there appears to be something to what you do.”

     “Being odd isn’t so bad, is it?” he says, “Even you’re a bit odd, I think—erm, please don’t take that the wrong way.”

     Is…is Hikaru of all people calling me odd?

     “You think I am odd?” I attempt not to be offended, yet unfortunately that is not so. “Mediocre and mundane, perhaps, yet…”

     “For someone of your standing—if a noblewoman leaving her marriage to travel with some peasant so she can start a bakery isn’t odd, it’s not particularly normal, is it?”

     I sit there for a moment, pondering. He is not wrong; yet also—

     “I would not call you a peasant, Hikaru.”

     “Well, I wasn’t born dignified, and I’m certainly not now.”

     “No, that is not what I meant…” I sigh, “You are not lowly, just because you do not have a prestigious name, or wealth—well, I suppose you are wealthy in a sense, yet…”

     He chuckles as I hopelessly fail in choosing my words.

     “I understand, no need to worry.”

     “Hopefully you know I truly do mean it, even if in the past I have not always been the kindest…” I say, not needing to think terribly far past…

     Though I tend to attempt not to think of this, the more I do, the more guilt overcomes me…looking back, I wonder how often I have belittled or ignored him without ever attempting to.

     Suddenly, his expression grows rather serious.

     “Suzette, it’s fine. Honestly,” he says, and seemingly without thought he grasps my hand. In spite of myself, I grip it tight. “You have more important things to be worrying about. If I’m truly upset with you, you’ll know.

     “So let’s just try to continue having a good journey, all right?”

     For a moment I merely stare at him, flabbergasted, before at last merely smiling.

     “Yes, I would enjoy that,” I reply softly.

     “Well,” he exclaims, abruptly pulling both his hand and face away. Even in the dark, one can see the color of his face grow warmer. “Anyways…thanks for respecting my privacy. I do appreciate it.”

     “It is no problem,” I reply, and he chuckles at having his line stolen.

     “It’s getting quite late now, so…somêl amé, Suzette.”

     “Tsiâ mo, Hikaru.”

     And thus he lifts himself up again, returning to the spot he lay before.

     I as well lay down, lulling back into sleep, focusing upon the lingering warmth still within my palm.


     {Before I realize it, the Sun flickers through the window, pouring its pounding light upon my face. It feels like I barely slept at all, but then again, it is Šovy-Viosne, the middle of spring. The night’s growing increasingly shorter, less time to sleep—but that also means more time to work! And so, after going through my normal morning routine, I go to my easel and begin my work once again: a halfway painted landscape of the view from my window.

     It’s…a rather dull subject, to be sure. Personally, I’d much rather be painting portraiture—human subjects are far more interesting! But alas, I’ll never be anything “great” if I can’t paint just about anything; I suppose these people would look even better if they don’t just merely exist in a void. And my skill at painting landscapes leaves much to be desired…wait, isn’t that the opposite of how this usually goes? Ah, no matter. That’s why I’m up at the crack of dawn…maybe I’ll become good eventually.

     For hours and hours I work, not even taking a break to do anything else. Slowly but surely I grow sore, a tad tired even though I have not been up for long…but, a couple hours before midday, I sigh with relief as I’m as close to finished as I can get for today. Admittedly, I’m not particularly happy with it; but, I suppose if my master approves I won’t mind. If I lived with him like a normal apprentice, I would just show him now…but, I know he is too busy to come over, and it would be a bit unwise to move this now. Oh well, the added hassle is worth it if my mother doesn’t have to be alone…

     After painting I go to the kitchen to prepare some tea, and once I return I sit and gaze out the window again. Honestly, I’m tired of looking at this street; but, at least now I can focus upon those passing by, instead of the boring, straight buildings that go down the side of the hill. There are not many out at the moment, mostly just my neighbors whom I already know…aside from one person. I see him walking up the street. That mail boy…

     For about a year now, I’ve noticed him making the rounds nearly every morning. Since I live in a building with many tenants, there is always someone getting a letter or something here; and so, that usually means his visit as well. But the odd thing is, I’ve never seen him anywhere else, at any other time. This town isn’t especially small, but I have a tendency to at least recognize faces even if no names are attached to them—and I’m sure I’d recognize a boy, seemingly younger than even I, sporting bright white hair that always covers half his face.

     Since I’ve already finished the only thing I set to accomplish today, why not do something a bit different?

     Quickly I finish the tea and leave my apartment, swiftly making way down the stairs. Just as I walk out the door of the building, I notice him sorting through all the mail, putting it into various boxes—perfect!

     “Ašon bon!” I exclaim, but he doesn’t react at all. Ah, it seems I need to take a more direct approach.

     “You, with the white hair!”

     Now he freezes entirely, before slowly looking up at me, bug-eyed.

     “…Me?” he asks timidly.

     “Yes, you; ašon bon!”

     For a moment he stares at me seemingly dumbfounded, as though we do not even speak the same language.

     “Sâlêzj…” he mumbles after a moment, before returning to sifting through the mail again.

     “What are you doing there?”

     “My job.”

     “Is that all you do?”

     Slowly, he side-eyes me suspiciously. From this angle, I notice for the first time that it’s the only eye he has, the covering of his hair on his face seemingly being a deliberate attempt to hide this fact…and for a moment, he almost seems menacing. But still—

     “What does it matter?” he asks quietly.

     “Every day I see you delivering mail, but I’ve never seen you anywhere else, so I was curious…”

     This isn’t going like I had planned…

     “I-I don’t really go around town, aside to work,” he says. “Occasionally I go to the park, but…that’s all.”

     “Oh, I go there all the time!” I say. “I’m surprised I haven’t seen you, if that’s the case.”

     “Well, I do try my best to avoid people…”

     “How will you ever meet anyone that way?”

     “I don’t.”

     “Oh, then…do you have friends from school?”

     He chuckles.

     “If I could afford that, I wouldn’t be here right now…but I can read and do some math at least, so that’s all that really matters.”

     “Then who are your friends…?”

     He sighs, and glances over at me with a clearly hurt, sorrowful look.

     “It doesn’t matter, all right?”

     For a moment his voice grows an edge, but just as quickly it returns to being meek. “I don’t really do the whole ‘friendship’ thing, okay? So…please just leave me alone. I’m not done yet.”

     And he goes back to sorting.

     “…You seem upset about that,” I say, perhaps unwisely.

     “It really doesn’t matter,” he mumbles, seemingly on the verge of tears now. “I’m done now, so vwâ.”

     Abruptly he turns around, and begins walking away—


     To my surprise, he stops.

     “What is it now?” I hear him mutter, voice shaking slightly.

     “If you’re so sad about not having a friend, then why not let me be your friend?”

     “You barely know me…”

     “And you know less about me, but friendships don’t just pop into existence, do they?”

     “You don’t have to pity me. I’m…fine. I’ve accepted no one will ever care about a freak like me, it’s okay.”

     “Even if I don’t know you, I cared enough to come out here and talk to you. I wasn’t even planning on leaving otherwise, you know.”

     He turns his head back my way, body standing solidly in place like a marble statue.

     And so, I hold out my hand and grin.

     “My name’s Alex. And yours?”

     For a few seconds he looks upon my hand with hardly a shred of emotion on his face, before at last turning around hesitantly shaking it in return, and practically whispering his own name in response.

     “Hikaru; i-it might be hard to remember, but—”

     “Since you said you like the park, you want to hang around with me there later?”

     “Are you…sure?” he asks nervously.

     “Erm, of course you don’t have to, if you aren’t comfortable—”

     “No, no…I…think I’d like that,” he answers, and for the first time I see him smile, however subtly. I’m almost taken aback by how sweet it is…

     “I still have an hour or two of work,” he says, “But I can see you when I’m finished.”

     “Well, I’ll see you then, Hikaru!”

     Now suddenly, he’s positively beaming.

     “Uh…tsiâ mo!”

     And with that, he scurries away to continue his work.

     What an interesting person…yet he appears so sad as well. Being albino, and seemingly not being from Soléiâ either if his name is anything to go by…it seems to have had such an effect on him. It’s hard to imagine not having any friends; I don’t have many people I’m very close to, but I still have some. But he surely seems younger than me, so hopefully he’s not living on his own, and has some family… Yet, even if he is, maybe he won’t have to stay lonely much longer.

     I return to the apartment to relax for a little while, but scarcely ten minutes later I receive a knock at the door.

     “Alex, are you there?” I hear a familiar voice ask on the other side.


     Suddenly I hop up, and rush towards the door, “Sâlêzj Ines, hello! I wasn’t expecting you here!”

     “Are you busy?” she asks in her typical subdued manner; although somehow, she seems even quieter than usual.

     “Not at the moment; is everything going all right?”

     “Oh yes, I just thought since we’ve hardly any time together recently, it would be nice to see one another for a while.”

     “Then come right in!”

     As I say this she smiles gracefully, before gently sitting upon the loveseat behind me. Soon, I take my spot beside her.

     “Please forgive me for being away so much recently,” she says, “I’ve been a little…caught in my studies.”

     “Have you read anything good lately?”

     “The ‘classics,’ but nothing actually interesting,” she replies with a giggle. “For now I have little choice in the matter, but such is life I suppose.”

     “Sometimes you have to focus on things you don’t really want to, to get better…” I try to reassure her, thinking to this morning’s painting. “Ah, maybe someday I can make enough that you can just spend every day reading what you enjoy, without having to worry about teaching!”

     “Isn’t it a little too early to be thinking about marriage, Alex?”

     I look away, blushing.

     “…Is it?”

     “We’re both still pretty young, have other responsibilities right now.”

     “Yes, but…in a couple years I’ll become a journeyman, and you shall graduate—that’s not too far, is it?”

     “I suppose not…” she whispers, voice slightly croaked.

     “Ines…have I done something wrong?”

     She looks up at me, not frowning or crying…yet something still seems to be bothering her. I can feel it.

     But what?

     “Not at all. Pšyku.”

     Slowly, I put my arm around her.

     “It’s okay,” I say. “If it makes you feel better, we can just not talk about it until that time comes…is that good?”

     She nods.

     I lean in to give her a kiss; but as I do so, she merely sits still, not reciprocating at all. Abruptly I pull back, jarred by the unease of it all.

     For a while, the two of us merely sit huddled together…and yet, no warmth can be felt. Not too long ago, everything was well between us…so what has changed? Did something happen with her? Or am I just a bad partner…?

     Ah…but, perhaps she’s merely worried about her studies. She is right. We’re young, we have other things to worry ourselves over. Maybe I really am just overthinking everything—}


     Abruptly the memory ends, and my eyes burst wide open.

     It…it happened again!

     That these dreams appear to be haunting me is already awful enough, although in this moment, that is neither the worst thing, nor what had awoken me. That lovely distinction would go towards the cascade of rain pouring down upon me. Hurriedly I stand up, but quickly grow disoriented in the dark downpour.

     “Suzette!” I hear Hikaru cry out for me, and scarcely before I can turn to face him, I feel him grabbing my hand and pulling me close—

     Immediately, without thought, I go limp against him. I shiver almost violently in the cool night…but his warmth makes it bearable. After a moment, however, I notice that something is rather off. It is not raining anymore. And yet, I still hear it loudly crashing down…

     “I’m sorry, Suzette,” he whispers, “This was the easiest way I—”

     “No, no…this is nice,” I reply without thinking.

     “W-Well,” he stutters, “You can walk on your own now. You should be protected.”

     For a moment I stay in place, before slowly drifting from his side. As I do so, no rain hits me. However, as I look about me, though it is dark, I can hear the rain all around us. Yet there still remains a pocket of dryness, occupied only by him and myself.

     “So this is one of your…”

     “I’m happy to see you’re getting more used to it.”

     “I suppose so.”

     In truth, I would scarcely say I have “gotten used” to anything; yet at this point, everything is so strange that this feels only mildly out of the ordinary, somehow.

     “What would you like to do?” he asks. “Anywhere here is surely wet by now, so it may do us well if we look for a drier spot…”

     “That sounds pr-preferable—” I am barely able to get the word out, before loudly sneezing. Has this weather already made me ill?

     But, considering I am still shivering intensely…

     “Come on,” he says softly, putting a hand on my shoulder, “Let’s go find somewhere better than here, at least.”

     Even in the darkness, I can barely make out his pale, lined face, smiling softly. Admittedly, it is rather soothing…

     And so, the two of us slowly traverse through the damp, muddy meadow. For a while, we say not a word. Yet, although the rain has subsided slightly, it is still rather noisy, and not at all peaceful. Along with the gross sloshing of our now completely caked shoes, and the cold dampness of my clothes…oh, it is such a dreadful experience. I can hardly focus upon anything else.

     “Hikaru, how long shall it take for us to reach shelter?”

     He pauses.

     “A while.”

     “Well…” My voice drifts off, as I attempt to think of something to discuss, to maybe distract from the burning cold drenching my skin. Immediately, my mind begins thinking of that dream; yet, I do not have the energy to even begin so much as think of that at the moment…

     “Do tell me more about your gods,” I say, “Since that appears to be a rather special subject for you.”

     “It’s also a vast one.”

     “Then…how did you become so interested in such matters? If you do not mind sharing. It is something to pass the time…”

     “Hmm,” he pauses for a moment, “It was so long ago now—I suppose it started when I came to Soléiâ. The man we lived with had an enormous library, so once I could read, that’s about all I did. I guess I found something there, but I really don’t remember.

     “When we moved to a different town, I often went to the temple when there weren’t any services. The priests were kind, in spite of everything. They said no one is wicked just by how they were born…considering how I turned out, maybe they were wrong.”

     For a moment, I merely go silent.

     It is loathsome when he says things of that nature…he always appeared so assured in himself, and yet the more time we spend together, the more I wonder how much of that is truth, and how much is a façade.

     My…we seem so wholly unlike one another, and yet the more time we spend together, the more those differences too appear as just an illusion. What a thought…

     “Please cease saying things like that…” I mutter.


     He looks down towards me, entirely confused. “Did I say something wrong?”

     “Y-You are always so harsh on yourself,” I stutter, still shivering from the wretched rain. “Saying that you are wicked, a peasant, or—”

     “Knowing my place in the world doesn’t mean I hate myself.”

     “If you so say,” I sigh. And the two of us continue onwards in silence, as the rain finally begins to dwindle away.



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